‘Canoe districts’ in north Kauai may continue for ten more years

The Kaua’i Advisory Committee to the state Reapportionment Commission has two public meetings set to discuss proposed new state House and Senate districts, which, if approved, would continue north Kaua’i’s decade-long tradition of “canoe districts” for another 10 years.

A canoe district is a state House or Senate seat which crosses county boundaries and spans ocean channels. Currently, Kaua’i’s north shore and east Maui compose canoe districts of one House and Senate seat.

Under one plan under consideration by the statewide commission, north Kaua’i would again be part of state House and Senate canoe districts, sharing representatives with portions of O’ahu instead of Maui.

The first Kaua’i meeting is Monday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m. at Kilauea School. The Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce plans another public meeting on the reapportionment plan, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 5 p.m. in the Kaua’i County Council chambers in the Historic County Building.

Currently, the proposed districts eliminate state Sen. Avery Chumbley as a Kaua’i-Maui senator, with his former district on Kaua’i being Kealia to Ha’ena now including heavily populated areas of Kailua and Waimanalo on O’ahu’s east side. That is the proposed Senate 8th District. Chumbley lives on Maui.

The proposed Senate 7th District, now represented by state Sen. Jonathan Chun of Lihu’e, is slated to remain largely unchanged: Kealia to Mana and Ni’ihau.

State Rep. Mina Morita’s canoe district of east Maui and north Kaua’i would still include Kealia to Ha’ena, but the proposed 15th District would now include Mokuleia and a portion of Wahiawa on O’ahu’s northwest shore. Morita lives in Hanalei.

State Rep. Bertha Kawakami’s 14th District expands from Mana to the south shore and Ni’ihau, to also include a portion of Puhi. She lives in Hanapepe. State Rep. Ezra Kanoho’s 13th District would remain much the same, portions of Puhi to Kapa’a just south of Kealia. He lives in Lihu’e. All are Democrats.

The maps of the new districts to be shown at the Monday meeting may be subject to change even before the statewide commission plans formal public hearings on the new districts. The commission this week decided to seek legal advice on whether or not its decision to count nonresident military dependents for the purposes of establishing population bases to draw district lines which have roughly equal numbers of voters will withstand a possible legal challenge on state constitutional grounds.

The commission has delayed for a week its vote on preliminary legislative redistricting maps because of legal questions raised over the figure used for the population base on which the district lines were re-drawn.

Members of the commission’s Maui Advisory Committee repeated objections Thursday to the commission’s earlier decision to include some 41,000 nonresident military dependents in the population base, saying it conflicts with a 1992 state constitutional amendment.

Following an hour-long private meeting with a deputy attorney general, Commission Chairman Wayne Minami said the bipartisan panel decided to seek formal legal advice.

“The commission has asked an attorney general’s opinion on whether we should include or exclude nonresident military dependents from our population base,” he said. “The commission did not feel comfortable proceeding given the uncertainty of the issues presented.”

The opinion is expected before the commission’s meeting next Thursday, “at which time we’ll either proceed with our proposed plans or we’ll go back to the drawing boards and redo the redistricting based on the (revised) population base,” Minami said.

Drafts of statewide maps redrawing the boundaries of the 51 state House and 25 state Senate districts were made public Tuesday by the commission. Those maps will be displayed at Monday’s meeting in Kilauea.

They are targeted to include, as close as possible, 46,579 residents in each new Senate district, and 22,833 residents in each new House district, reflecting population growth and geographic shifts shown in last year’s U.S. Census.

Excluding the estimated 41,430 nonresident military dependents reduces the statewide 1.164 million population base by 3.5 percent, but with almost all the military dependents living on O’ahu, it reduces O’ahu’s 830,176 base by 5 percent. With a large military presence in the Wahiawa area, Morita’s district lines may be moved if a decision is made to exclude nonresident military dependents from population bases. The same may be true with Kailua and its proximity to Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe.

Madge Schaefer of the Maui Advisory Committee noted that voter information provided by elections officials on the 1992 constitutional amendment changing from a registered voter base to a permanent resident base said it would exclude nonresident military and their dependents.

The commission earlier decided to exclude nonresident military members from population bases, but voted to include nonresident military dependents in bases.

“I think by using nonresident dependents in your population base, you have excluded the opinion of 210,000 voters who voted in the Nov. 3, 1992, election and exercised the very purist form of democracy,” Schaefer told the commission.

She urged the commission to seek a legal opinion before proceeding with the reapportionment plan.

The commission wants the attorney general to determine what bearing the voter information on the 1992 amendment should have on the commission’s decision to include nonresident military dependents in the population base, Minami said following the meeting.

If they are removed, Minami said it could mean a full House seat for Maui instead of sharing a seat with part of the Big Island as proposed in the draft reapportionment plan. It would also likely mean having to re-draw the recently redrawn Kaua’i district boundaries, but almost certainly would not eliminate the need for canoe districts in order to ensure a one-person, one-vote mandate required by state and federal laws.

Minami said the commission will work to stay within its current schedule to meet statutory deadlines.

Once approved, the schedule calls for a 50-day public comment period, including statewide public hearings that begin 20 days after the plan is officially published.

The plan must be submitted to the state election’s office by October 27, and will be in effect for the 2002 elections.


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